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2007 kicks off with strikes
January 05, 2007
HARARE - Zimbabwean employees marked
the first week of 2007 by taking industrial action for better pay,
against the background of inflation that continues to hover around
Hundreds of patients were left stranded
during the Christmas holiday period as junior doctors in public
hospitals across the country went on strike to press for better
salaries and working conditions, while the power supply was disrupted
in the capital, Harare, when Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority
(ZESA) employees decided to stay away from work this week.
The employees of ZESA, a parastatal
company that is the sole power supplier, were demanding a salary
increment of 1,150 percent to cushion themselves against the prevailing
The resulting power outages lasted
for at least three hours on Thursday, affecting communication services
in the busy capital and forcing dimly lit shops, including clothing
retail outlets selling school uniforms, to operate without being
able to issue receipts.
The lowest-paid ZESA employee, said
the unions, earned about US$91 a month, hardly enough to rent a
single room in a modest suburb. Many skilled staffers have opted
to migrate in search of better salaries. Last month, the Consumer
Council of Zimbabwe reported that the cost of living, including
non-food items like transport and rent, amounted to just over US$800
a month for an average family of six.
Junior doctors, who earn about US$223
a month, were demanding a monthly salary of around US$19,000. Most
people are struggling to survive in an economy characterised by
hyperinflation, unemployment of more than 70 percent and biting
shortages of foreign currency, basic commodities, fuel and electricity,
as well as a shrinking industrial base.
Nurses have been overwhelmed by the
numbers of people seeking assistance at the Harare and Parirenyatwa
hospitals in the capital, and the Mpilo and United hospitals in
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, which are the country's four main
referral centres and used by most people because they are more affordable
than private institutions.
A notice in one casualty reception
area announced the junior doctors' the strike and said only emergencies
would be attended to.
Bridget Sadza, 34, a housewife, was
hit by a haulage truck in the small town of Chivhu in Mashonaland
East Province on Christmas Eve and sustained a broken arm, which
nurses said might need to be amputated.
"I was transferred from Chivhu hospital
to Harare because of the seriousness of my injury but, up to now,
no doctor has visited me. The young nurses here tell me that if
I don't get attention soon, the injury might turn septic," Sadza
told IRIN in a barely audible voice.
She said the single expatriate doctor
on duty at the hospital could not attend to her because he had a
backlog of sick people. Unable to afford the US$798 needed for admission
to a private health facility, Sadza had to wait her turn at Harare
Her brother, who is employed as an
engineer in neighbouring Botswana and had to travel to Zimbabwe
to assist her, said the only way to avoid amputation of her arm
was to take her to a hospital outside the country. "Under normal
circumstances, treating my sister's arm would not have been a big
issue. The health sector in Zimbabwe is now in a mess. It is because
of poverty; the poverty of a people living in a badly performing
For almost a decade, Zimbabwe has suffered
a debilitating brain drain of health and other skilled personnel
who have migrated to other countries for better salaries and working
conditions. The Health Services Board released statistics in late
2006 showing that major referral centres were operating without
key medical staff.
Of a required 145 senior doctors, only
36 were available in the country, while only 72 instead of the necessary
189 specialist consultants were left in Zimbabwe. The board said
there was a deficit of up to 89 percent of state-certified medical
laboratory technicians and a 44 percent shortfall of state-certified
nurses, while there were 19 percent too few sisters-in-charge for
supervising nurses at major health centres.
As the economy fell into decline after
the fast-track land reform programme that saw around 4,000 white
commercial farmers being removed from their farms to make way for
thousands of landless blacks, the United Kingdom gave 2,346 work
permits to Zimbabwean nurses in 2002 alone, making Zimbabwe the
UK's fourth largest supplier of nurses after the Philippines, India
and South Africa.
One of the striking doctors, speaking
anonymously, said although they sympathised with the patients, withholding
their services was the best way to push the government to improve
their working conditions.
"We don't wish to harm the patients
because that is against the principles of our profession. It is
unfortunate that the government, every year, does not want to heed
our grievances until we go on strike," the doctor told IRIN. "We
are living like paupers, and most of the time we are stuck in transport
queues on our way to work."
The Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZIMA)
described the industrial action by doctors as "sad", and urged the
government to find a lasting solution to the plight of medical practitioners.
"Doctors strike every year ... [over]
the same grievances. There is a need for a medium- to long-term
strategy to resolve this recurrent problem, because whenever doctors
withdraw their services, the consequences are undesirable and services
are disrupted," ZIMA secretary-general Dr Tapiwa Bwakura told IRIN.
"Doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and pharmacists are already
thin on the ground due to a massive brain drain, and the sooner
we resolve our problems, the better."
Bwakura said Zimbabwe had been receiving
doctors from Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fill in
the gaps left by those departing for greener pastures, but the government
needed to improve conditions to help retain local professionals
who were familiar with the country. The expatriate doctors usually
faced communication problems because they could not speak indigenous
languages, while their English, the main official language, was
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